Ryan McLean, in his first season as an assistant professional at Watchung Valley Golf Club, had never before played at Little Mill Country Club in Marlton, but he knew how to attack it.

“All I wanted to do was hit fairways and greens and make putts. My goal was to shoot even par, knowing that was a good way to qualify.”

McLean, 27, a native of Newport News, Va., did a lot more than shoot even par. He fired a round of five-under-par 67 to earn medalist honors at the fourth and final qualifying round for the 100th New Jersey State Golf Association Open Championship on Wednesday at the par-72, 6,864 yard Little Mill Country Club in Marlton. It was the last of four Open qualifiers conducted by the NJSGA.

McLean was one of only three players to complete their round under par. Troy Vannucci, a four-time Little Mill club champion including 2019, shot two-under-par 70, and amateur Andrew Kotler of Cherry Valley, a recent graduate of Ohio’s Kenyon College, carded a 71. A total of eight golfers who shot one-over-par 73 advanced to the NJSGA Open Championship, July 20-22, at Knickerbocker Country Club in Tenafly.

Scoring

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“Once the birdies started falling, I felt I could coast. I made great birdie putts on eight and nine to go three under at the turn. It’s funny. Once the quarantine came, I didn’t play from March 15 to May 1. After a long layover, you get back to basics. Ever since, I’ve been playing well,” said McLean, who also birdied the first three holes on the back nine, going six under after 12 holes before two bogeys and a birdie the rest of the way.

He worked as an assistant last year at the Essex County Club in Massachusetts and before that spent two years at Saucon Valley in Pennsylvania.

On June 8, McLean tied for first place with Thomas Avant or Arcola in the New Jersey PGA Section Assistant Professionals event held at Watchung Valley shooting 67. Last summer, Avant was low professional at the 99th Open Championship at Trump National in Bedminster.

“My length has always been a strength. My putting has improved. The reason I wanted the job at Watchung Valley was because it would allow me to continue to work on my game,” said McLean, a graduate of Methodist University in North Carolina.

“Playing there three or four times a week at Watchung Valley has definitely helped me improve. That course constantly challenges me.”

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